For as the soil makes the sprout come up
and a garden causes seeds to grow,
so the Sovereign LORD will make righteousness and praise
spring up before all nations. – Isaiah 61:11
This is Part 1 in a series detailing our family’s journey into Square Foot Gardening, how we applied it to homeschooling, and how we are using the experience to train our children to love and honor God.
Our gardening saga started a couple of years ago when a family friend overheard my wife and I bantering back and forth about the topic of gardening. My wife was “encouraging” me to plant a garden. In response, I was reminiscing about my childhood experiences in gardening with her. The conversation went something along the lines of this:
Beautiful Wife: “Why don’t we plant a garden this year? It would be great to have fresh vegetables and the kids would have fun seeing things grow.”
Supportive Husband (Me): “That’s great! I hope that when you say “we” you are referring to yourself and a mouse you have in your pocket. However, if by “we” you mean that I get to clear, till, plant, weed, mulch, water and maintain while the kids watch, I think we might have a problem. I’ve helped in a few gardens over the years and I know how much work it is. I would, however, be happy to show you where the garden tools are kept.”
It was at this point that our friend uttered the words that would lead us on a garden saga that would have been unimaginable to me a few years ago. She said, “Have you heard of Square Foot Gardening? It’s really neat. You don’t have to till, there’s barely any weeding and it doesn’t require a lot of work or space.”
At the time I asked if she was planning to trade in the family cow for some magic beans (Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum, I smell work and I’m having none). But, in the days that followed, I decided to check this out. So, I bought the book, “All New Square Food Gardening” and read up on the concept. The author, Mel Bartholomew, is a retired engineer who had similar gardening experiences to mine (think: sweat, weeds, blisters). He began to question the logic behind tilling and amending soil only to walk all over it and compress it back down. He, also, wondered why all the seed packets said some variation of “dump the entire packet in a trench and then rip out the perfectly good plants to a predetermined spacing (3, 4, 6 or 12 inches in most cases)”. By following the seed packet you had the other unintended consequence (assuming you are successful in your efforts) of yielding more produce than a typical family can consume. This has been known to cause neighbors to turn off their porch lights at night in the fear that the hapless gardener might leave another basket of collards and zucchini on their porch!
After some research, Mel came up with a concept that is brilliant in its simplicity:
- Build a small raised bed with ‘perfect’ growing medium (that’s fancy talk for “glorified outdoor potting soil”).
- Make your raised bed small enough that you don’t have to walk on it and compress the soil.
- Plant your seeds at the “thinned out” spacing in the beginning (Mel advocates dividing the garden patch into 1 foot by 1 foot squares and planting at the correct spacing within the square. For example, if the packet says, “thin to 6 inch spacing” you can plant 4 plants in a single square foot and maintain the proper spacing.
- Only plant as much as you plan to eat.
After reading the book from cover to cover twice, I decided that this might actually make gardening fun. The results of our efforts greatly exceeded my expectations (and I’m not talking about the tomatoes).
I got the kids involved early in the process and had them help me with seed germination for our tomato and pepper plants. I made a shelf for my office and put the seedlings on it. Since they were involved, the kids started every day by checking to see the progress. The joy in their voices every morning when they ran to give me the latest updates was worth every penny we spent. They nurtured the plants throughout the weeks and months. They could not wait to taste the tomatoes. We started on February 22 with seeds and we were eating tomatoes at the end of June.
Here’s a quick list of some of the things the kids and I learned:
- Patience: Four months from seed to fruit is an eternity to most kids. But, it was four months of learning and nurturing.
- The benefits of hard work. Proverbs 14:23 says, “All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.”
- God’s amazing design. We looked at all the different sizes and shapes of seeds for flowers, herbs, vegetables and fruits. We got to talk about how the seeds were spread in nature. We talked about how the bees pollinate the flowers to make the fruit. We talked about how predatory “good” insects like parasitic wasps help fight off bad insects. We caught a tomato horn worm in a jar and watched it devour leaves. Then, we found out that the wasps had already ‘planted’ their larvae in the worm. As a result, we got to watch the wasp larvae develop and devour the worm.
Almost every day we get to talk about some aspect of God’s design as it relates to the garden and our plants. These discussions have prompted me to hit the internet in search of answers to their questions. We have learned a great deal through this experience.
The kids love to get involved in all aspects of the process. They’ve helped plant, water, weed, and pick the harvest. They helped build cages to keep out the critters (more on this later). They helped me turn the compost heap and keep it watered. Gardening has drawn us closer together and given us shared goals. Our kids already loved fruits and vegetables, but, the other side benefit to gardening is that they cannot wait to eat what they have worked hard to grow.
Gardening has given us many opportunities to honor the commands of Deuteronomy 6:5-7: “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” Every hour of our gardening experience we have had teachable moments about God’s beautiful design and His love for us.
Over the next several entries, I will share more details about our plan and how it has now evolved into a much larger scale hobby. I will attempt to share pictures and tips along the way.